Lance Allred and the Mad World

I received an article about Lance Allred last week. Lance is apparently the first ever deaf person to be offered an NBL contract in America. His contract was for ten days. I imagine he had ten days to prove himself. He didn’t and he was cut. I am not sure why he was cut. Perhaps he just did not make the grade. Perhaps his coach thought it was just all too hard to incorporate him. Apart highlighting that Allred is an obviously great basketballer Allred’s story reminded me, yet again, that we live in a world that is full of ignorant bigots.

Allred is famous in America for being the the centre of a discrimination scandal. His coach apparently lost it with him and in front of all his team mates and screamed that Allred was, ” Deaf, Dumb and a disgrace to all cripples.” His coach also called him “75% deaf” with no heart and accused him of using his deafness to take an easy ride.

His coach Rick Majerus, a well known and respected coach in the US, when confronted with his remarks said ” I honest to god don’t remember. I’m not even going to address it.” A wonderful case of selective memory. Amazingly after such a tirade his employer reacted to a discrimination complaint against him by saying that he had no case to answer. The defence being, “basketball often brings out the worst in him.”

Allred was also raised in a Polygamist cult. He would be used to discrimination and bigotry because when he was 5 he was told by a minister of his church that god had made him deaf because he had not been faithful in a previous life. Given that the cult believed that being faithful meant marrying whoever took your fancy this makes no sense at all. Given the obvious stresses of his life It is perhaps not surprising that Allred developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in his teenage years. It can only happen in America.

Sport seems to bring out the worst in the bigot. In my younger years as a talented soccer player, I was often left on the bench while less talented players played. I once came on with fifteen minutes to go and scored two goals. I missed a hat trick when my shot was frantically cleared off the line. I expected to be picked for a full game the next week. Instead i was dropped completely. The coach claiming that communication difficulties made it too much of a risk when we were chasing the title. I would have thought that goals would have helped the title chase, but there you go.

I was a less talented but ultra keen netballer. As a defender in mixed netball I was hard to pass. I often played with Deaf mixed netball teams. I was signing away to my mates one day and the opposition Goal Defence started to mock our signing. I yelled out to him that it was just as well  he couldn’t understand us cos we were talking about him. The umpire had stern words with me and accused me of stirring up trouble.  She demanded of me to, “Make sure you talk during the game, I want to know what you are saying” I told her to welcome to my world. I think the point was lost on her.

More seriously deaf Athlete Dean Barton-Smith nearly missed out on selection for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. This is despite the fact that he had met the qualifying standard not once but twice, was ranked number 1 in Australia, was ranked number three in the Commonwealth and top 20 in the world. Barton-Smith was initially told that he would not be selected because it was felt that he had little hope of finishing in the top 16 at the Olympics.

Barton-Smith was made to suffer enormous stress over a period of time and feared not being selected. This is despite meeting all the selection criteria. He has never really been clear as to why he was almost not selected. It was suggested that the Australian Olympic Committee had not expected him to qualify and had not budgeted on his selection. There was suggestions of politics and strained relations between the Australian  Olympic Committee and Deaf Sports body over deaf attitudes towards the Paralympics. it is still a mystery to this day as to why he was nearly not selected.

Had Barton-Smith been a hearing athlete it is doubtful that he would have had any question marks placed over his selection. Imagine the best 100m sprinter in Australia, Top 3 in the Commonwealth and top 20 in the world being told he or she would not be selected for the team even though he or she had met all the qualifying requirements. It would not happen, selection would be automatic. Add deafness to the equation and suddenly people start finding excuses for non selection. Bizarre and disturbing.

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that, “The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye, The more light you shine on it, the more it will contract” This may well be so but as these stories show and as The Rebuttal’s recent article A Blast from the Past shows, bigotry and discrimination are never far from the surface. Sometimes the best we can do is simply laugh and ridicule the attitudes of the bigot as Dick Gregory did when he said,    ” I am really enjoying the new Martin Luther King Jr stamp – Just think of all those white bigots licking the backside of a black man.” Laughing may well help us cope but the attitudes of the bigot can do us great damage. Unfortunately we have to be constantly on our toes.

Who is Laughing Now?

Our disability discrimination laws are a laughing stock. They have to be the most ridiculous and toothless laws that exist anywhere in a comparable country in the Western World. The residents of an Australian suburb that took their Council to court will testify to that. This is a tragic tale of a group of people with a disability who tried to stick up for their rights. They discovered that the council had failed to comply with requirements of the Australian Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). As a group they decided to take the council to court. They lost on a technicality. Consequently Australia is now the laughing stock of the world in regard to disability discrimination.

This group of people with a disability proved that the Council broke the law. They apparently had their case thrown out because they complained as a group. The Australian DDA states that only individual complaints can be heard. Class action or complaints are not allowed. So the judge has allegedly ruled their case to be void. Never mind that the council is putting up barriers to disability access contrary to the DDA, you can’t complain as a group and therefore the Council is in the clear. To add insult to injury, the group that complained now find themselves faced with having to pay court costs in excess of $50 000. I really hope they sue their lawyer because any mug that knows anything about the DDA will easily discover the law only allows individual cases.

The DDA in Australia is essentially fairy floss. To activate it individuals must first complain. If they don’t complain then organisations such as the Council can more or less do as they please. The DDA in Australia only allows individuals to complain. What this means is if there is an issue that impacts on 10 000 people with a disability then they must all complain individually. You can’t launch one complaint for 10 000 people which seems logical; you can only complain individually.

Theoretically if 10 000 people complained on the one issue the Australian Human Rights Commission would have to deal with each complaint individually. The efficient way would be for 10 000 to come together and make one complaint. But NO! In Australia we have the ridiculous and costly situation where each complaint can only centre on one person.

What is more the Australian DDA is not a prescriptive law. It sets out standards that organisations are supposed to follow. However, in Australia organisations only have to follow the standards if they can afford to follow them. They can argue Unjustifiable Hardship and cry poor. What they must then do is demonstrate to the courts why they cannot afford to provide access. It is a lengthy and costly process.

Most individuals who make complaints cannot afford legal representation. This alone prevents many people from complaining under the DDA. What is worse, organisations like the Council CAN afford legal representation and will often get the best. They will draw out cases as long as possible. Many individuals know that this may happen and fear complaining lest they be out of pocket.

Indeed there was a recent story of a deaf person in NSW who took a cinema to court through the DDA for not providing captioned movies. He mysteriously withdrew his case at the last minute. Rumour had it that the cinema paid him out to keep quiet. More likely he realised the ongoing cost of the case would be beyond his financial resources and backed out. I am sure this has happened to many people with a disability wishing to complain under the DDA.

The most well known case involving deafness in Australia centred on Gail Smith and her deaf daughter. Gail and her husband believed that the Queensland Education Department had broken the law under the DDA because they did not provide sign language interpreters for her daughter. She originally lost her case at great financial and personal cost.

To get support for her daughter she had to move literally from one side of Australia to the other. Her family had to uproot leaving friends and support networks just so that their daughter could get access to education. The stress and financial strain must have been enormous.

Eventually Gail appealed the case findings and won allowing her to move back to her family and friends and forcing the Queensland Education Department to provide for her daughter. To get to that point it took several years, lots of money and great personal stress.

One may argue that this shows that the Australian DDA does, in fact, work. What poppycock. No person should have to endure what Gail and her family endured. In Australia if you steal you break the law. If you murder you break the law. The law is prescriptive in most areas. In most cases the law clearly states what you can and cannot do. It is as simple as “though shall not steal”, “though shall not kill.” What is more you clearly know what will happen if you do.

Yet our disability laws state basically that you have to try, you have to show that you did your best. If an organisation can do that they can metaphorically get away with murder. Imagine the outcry if someone robbed a bank and his defence was, “I tried not to” and the judge said, “Yes I can see you did, off you go back to mum.” There would be an outcry of epic proportions.

The Council broke the law and got away with it. The fault is entirely with Australia’s loose and weak DDA laws. It is time to come up with a law that clearly prescribes what organisations need to do in terms of disability access. The current laws fall well short of this and makes Australia look like a joke in the eyes of the world. I can guarantee you the Council in question get the joke and are laughing all the way to the bank.

A Blast from the Past

In the late 1990s I worked at VSDC which is now known as Deaf Children Australia. January of each year was generally a slow time with children being away on holiday. We used the time to tidy up minor administrative issues and set ourselves up for the New Year. One January my manager sentme down to the dungeons to sort through old files. The dungeons were the basement of the big old bluestone building on St Kilda Road. Down there you will find a big old bath the size of a small swimming pool. In years gone by deaf children boarded at the building and this is where they apparently bathed. I had visions of regimented deaf children all lined up and made to bathe with each other while supervisors looked sternly on.

The dungeons are a fascinating place. At the time it contained files going
back a long way. I found files of deaf people who I knew that dated back to
before the war. These files tell a fascinating tale of a world long gone. One
of the things that struck me the most at the time was that deaf boys all
seemed to be encouraged towards trade type jobs while deaf girls were
encouraged towards sewing and cooking. Indeed the museum at the
Bluestone building contains boot making apparatus. One can imagine rows of
young Deaf boys in their long pants in a boot making workshop learning to
make boots while the girls were in another part of the building sewing or
cooking.

But really it is not a world that long gone. When I was finishing school in the
late 70s and early 80s I was not encouraged towards academic pursuits
either. I was encouraged into trades as well. Indeed I left school twice. I left
once to become a labourer in a cane furniture factory and left the second
time to become a cabinet maker. It was bizarre really because as a wood
worker I made a great ballerina. I was hopeless at wood work but always
great at English. I loved writing and reading and was very good at both. Yet
despite having talent in this area I was stereotyped into trades and never
encouraged to do anything else.

Until very recently I believed that the attitudes I faced and the attitudes
that the old students who attended the St Kilda Road deaf school faced were
largely a thing of the past. I now know of deaf people who are journalist,
lawyers, doctors and deaf people who are CEOs of organisations (ironically
only one of them at a deaf organisation). My great friend Donovan Cresdee
obtained his PHD last year into his 6th decade of life. This is a far cry from
the man who worked as a process worker in a tube making factory when he
left school.

If I had my time over again I wish someone had advised me to become a
journalist. I remember suggesting to my teacher back when I was at school
that I would make a good teacher of the deaf. I was told that it was not
possible. I was told that I would have to work with a class of hearing
students for four years first and that this was impossible for a deaf person. Meek and mild that I was at the time I accepted this as fact. God knows what they would have said if I had suggested journalism.

I was thinking recently how much better things would be for me if I was at
school now. Expectations are so much higher these days. Or so I thought
until I attended a friend’s 21st birthday on the weekend. At my friend’s party I met Sue, a young and extremely bright deaf girl who has recently left
school. Her recent experience shattered all of my positive illusions.
Sue is 19, having left school after completing year 12. She has a cochlear
implant but is heavily involved in the Deaf community through sport. She is
bright, energetic and friendly. Her language ability is fantastic and while she
has some minor English grammar issues she has very good written English.
Hell, even the articles I write have to be checked umpteen times because
my grammar is so poor.

Having successfully completed year 12, Sue left school with extremely high
expectations. She is a talented and creative photographer. Her aim was to
obtain work in the photography industry. She decided that rather than study
after leaving school she would go straight to work. This is not uncommon for
many young deaf people. After all, many of them have been at school more
or less since they could walk. Speech therapy and constant intervention to
help with speech development begins at a very early age.

Sue signed up with an employment agency. This agency is a specialist agency
that helps people who are deaf or hearing impaired look for work. Sue told
her case worker that she wanted to become a photographer. Her case
worker shot her aspirations down in flames.

Sue was told that her aim to be a photographer was not realistic and that it
was a competitive industry which required intensive communication. She was
encouraged to look for other work. It was suggested that there might be
opportunities available at her local supermarket as a shelf stocker that were
more in line with her capabilities.

And here was me thinking that the world had progressed since I had left
school. To put it mildly I was flabbergasted. Not so much because of the
case worker’s attitude but because the attitude existed within an agency
that provided specialist support for deaf and hearing impaired job seekers.
My friend Sue, from being a happy and confident school leaver, professed
that her self esteem was now shot to pieces. I emphasise here that she
herself used the term self esteem. She is a very aware girl with enormous
potential and it beggars belief that she is being made to apply for work as a
shelf stocker.

In an age where people in Adelaide have deaf Dr Don and Dr Bev, in Sydney
and Melbourne they have Alastair and Rebecca who are qualified deaf
lawyers and in Melbourne and London are Dean and Paul working as deaf
Executive Directors for their respective employers, surely we can do better
than this? How many more talented young deaf people will have to suffer the
same fate before Australia wakes up? Sue has had her aspirations shattered.
Brendan O’Connor and Bill Shorten who head the Rudd Governments
disability employment consultation, all our educators of the deaf and all
people who assist deaf job seekers– I hope that you are listening

Desma Hunt's Diaries #3

I have had a dreadful morning, simply dreadful. I was blow drying my hair and the power cut out. Talk about a bad hair day.

It all started in the morning. I was in the shower and my middle son ran in and said,”There is a power cord in the laundry.” I was tired so I assumed that is what he said even though it seemed a weird thing to say. I told him that there were several of them in the laundry. He looked at me as if I was quite mad and left. I was naked and wet – I did not have time for him.

I hopped out of the shower, wrapped myself in a large towel – not that i need a large one – and started blow drying my hair. Then POOOOOOOOOF – no power. Having half my head frizzy is not my idea of a good morning.

I raced down stairs to find out what had happened. My son was able to clarify that he had not been speaking of power cords, but of the man from Powercor.  What quite he made of my comment that there were several of them in the laundry I have no idea! I was reminded, yet again, that lip-reading is not an exact science.

It was actually quite serious because the man from Powercor had come to disconnect the power and that is exactly what he did. He cut off the power with not so much as a note or a card. I can tell you now that If I ever see him my fry-pan will be put to good use.

Rather miffed and confused I called the electricity company through the National Relay Service. It is just as well that I have a wireless modem and a laptop because the lack of power made the TTY obsolete. Using MSN and the IP Relay I called the power company. I was half way through explaining what had happened when the line dropped out, as it frequently does with Ip Relay in Australia. This happened not once, not twice but three times.

Whilst my three boys moaned that they could not play the WII or watch their DVD’s I busied myself trying to get the power reconnected. As it turns out the power was disconnected in error. Some brainless male or female administrative person had bungled the set up of our electricity account making it seem as if we had not paid our bill. It took me no less than four hours to get to the bottom of it!

The power will be restored tonight. But what I can’t get over is that i missed seeing a man in overalls this morning and  I do LIKE a man in overalls – don’t you?

I’m Desma Hunt. I’m Deaf and I hate it!

The above is a truish account of a real event 🙂

West Ham and All That

My last navel gazing session saw me compare an Olympic athlete with a PHD scholar. I came to the conclusion that they were almost one of the same. I guess the reader had better settle down with a cup of coffee and a biscuit because I am engaging in a spot of navel gazing again.

I am a West Ham nut. I read and watch everything I can about West Ham. Last year I got Pay TV, almost solely so that I could watch their games. I live for midnight Saturday night so that I can watch them. Two of my three sons are West Ham nuts too. They both watch with me. One never shuts up even when I tell him too. The other, being just seven, falls asleep after ten minutes, wakes up five minutes from the end, sees the score and then denies he was ever asleep at all. Next week I will get a tattoo of the legendary Bobby Moore on my forearm.

I recall watching my first ever English football match back in 1972. It was Arsenal and Leeds FA Cup final and I was 7 years old. Alan Clarke scored the winner for Leeds. I was heart broken because I was going for Arsenal. For six months of my life I was an Arsenal nut until I learnt that I was actually from West Ham. From that day I was hooked. I was a complete Football Nut. At one stage, courtesy of Shoot magazine and watching two week old versions of the UK football show the Big Match I could tell you every player of every team in the English Division 1, now known as the Premier League.

Unless you are a football nut like me none of this will mean anything to you. But watching the game on Saturday made me reminiscence about the days I was hearing.  I vividly recall that first match I ever saw. Arsenal vs. Leeds at Wembley Stadium.  The crowd sing and chant and the atmosphere is electric. It still sends tingles up my spine just to remember. In my mind I still hear it – the rhythm and crescendo – ARSSSSSEEEEEEENALLLLLLLLLL CLAP CLAP CLAP, ARSSSSSEEEEENNNALLLLL CLAP CLAP CLAP – Sung over and over again by 50 000 Cockneys, it is just awe inspiring. Then of course you have the 50 000 Yorkshire men at the other end all singing LEEEEEEEEEEEEEDDDDS CLAP CLAP CLAP. All singing in unison, all trying to be heard above each other – 100 000 voices, it is awesome.

I am not hearing now, I have been Deaf for almost 40 years. I no longer hear these chants nor feel the vibe of the crowd. More is the pity because thinking back, the crowd was at least 50 % of the entertainment. Now I am a purist. I speak of one touch play, of zones and through balls. I speak of changing to  4 3 3 because 4 3 2 1 is too defensive. But I miss that atmosphere. Give me a pill so that I can be fixed and hear it again and I would take that pill tomorrow.

It is not just the fact that they cheer on their team; football fans are a witty lot. Last week West Ham played Newcastle.  West Ham and Newcastle are in turmoil at the moment. Newcastle have lost their manager. West Ham have a new manager and their sponsor has gone bust. My son tells me that the West Ham fans broke into a chant that targeted the old Newcastle manager, Kevin Keegan. The West Ham fans broke into a chant, ” KEEGAN, KEEGAN, KEEGAN where has your KEEGAN GOOONE – FAR FAAAAAAAAR AWWWWWWWAAAYYY.” My son thought it hilarious.

Not to be out done the Newcastle fans apparently made up their own chant. West Ham scored a goal. The scorer, as footballers do, went into hysterics. He spread his arms out like wings and began to run all over the field in mock impersonation of an aeroplane. Now the West Ham sponsor that went broke was, ironically, an airline company. The Newcastle fans broke into a chant – ” YOU’RE NOT FLYYYYYYIIIINNNNGGGG  ANNNNYMMOOOOOORE … YOU’RE NOT FLYYYYYYYING ANNNNNNYMOOOORRREE” – All this spontaneously sung by thousands of fans. Apparently even the West Ham fans found this one funny and laughed along with the Newcastle fans.

Generally I am over being Deaf. It’s part of my life. I often say it has given me as much as it has taken away. It has given me a living, friends and a different perspective of life. BUT when I was watching the football on the weekend I was reminded that I will always be culturally hearing. My values are hearing and I realised that I actually miss many of the things that I valued when I was hearing.

Life goes on and it is not a bad life that I have. But that Pill to cure deafness. Even if it could only last for 90 minutes from midnight on a Saturday just to experience that atmosphere again – I would take it like a shot.

Desma Hunt's Diaries – No 2

I had such a lovely morning. I attended my son’s school assembly. Usually I just go and smile like the other parents. It just doesn’t do to not be part of the crowd. You know how it is. You look secretly around you at what the other parents are doing. You see them chuckle so you chuckle with them. You chuckle, make eye contact and then shake or nod your head depending on what the others are doing. Occasionally you place your fingers gently on your lips and look adoringly at the children as they make their announcements.  I always feel a tad guilty pretending to be one of the hearies. Hiding being deaf is vaguely insulting but it’s better than looking like a miserable cow.

But today they had an interpreter! My goodness don’t those little kiddies come up with some wonderful stories. The school my son goes to have a unit for Deaf kids but until today they had never provided an interpreter. Usually it is just a teacher of the deaf passing on snippets of information to the kids. But not today, the interpreter gave me full information and for the first time I knew what was going on at the assembly. For once my lips actually quivered with real emotion because I actually understood what my boy was saying up on stage. Seven goals he scored, and didn’t he just let everyone know!

But the best part was the National Anthem. I sang it with full and florid lip movements, all thanks to the interpreter.  “OOOOZZZTRALLIIIIA let us REJOICE ….”, I mouthed in time with the interpreter. I might sing in the shower but no way was I going to let the crowd suffer my singing.  I was involved… It was lovely!

I’m Desma Hunt. I’m Deaf and I love it!

Desma Hunt's Diaries

I am Desma Hunt and these are my diaries. I tell it as it is.

I love Pay TV. Movies galore with subtitles followed by endless repeats of Tim with his gapped tooth smile. Searching for bargains and making not too subtle sexist remarks. He is almost an antique buyers version of Benny Hill.

I love cooking. I love the cooking shows. That Jamie is just a divine hunk; he really is. Gordon is so SEXY when he is angry. Dont you just love an assertive man. When he is on I usher the kiddies to bed, turn the sound off and watch it with captions. That is, of course, when the captions are on! Mind you when Nigella is on the only switch I touch is the off switch. The front end she has on her! It is a wonder she doesn’t topple over into her scone bowl.

My latest obsession is the show called the Great British Menu. Top chefs from my home country fight it out to cook with hunky Heston at the Gherkin. I tell you it is excitement personified. The previous series was not captioned but the new one is. Then it isn’t – then it is – then it isn’t. It is driving me insane. If the captions exist surely it cannot be that hard to turn the caption switch on at Foxtel.

All week it has not been captioned and then suddenly last night it was. I kind of wish it wasn’t. The Yorkshire chef was tasy but I am not sure his olive icecream with olive infused chocolate is something I would like to try. Modern British cookery he called it???

This happens all the time on Foxtel. One minute shows are captioned and one minute they are not. Shows from Britain nearly all come with captions but Foxtel seems to be selective about which captions they use. Some nights it seems they just cant be bothered putting the captions on. They get me excited about hunkie Jamie and his school dinners and then they dont put the captions on. Dont they know his lisp is impossible to lip-read. It’s driving me to chocolate and a size 22. What is going on? IT IS THE PITS!

Im Desma Hunt; I’m deaf and I hate it!

Research Project: Deafness & Sexuality

Hi. This is Tony Nicholas of Mephisto’s Musings writing to tell you about an important survey I am working on with a colleague, Warwick Abraham.

The research project,  Deafness and Sexuality, which I have written about on two occassions previously, in Mephisto’s Musings: Research Project [see also Research Project Update], and has been mentioned in the AAD [now Deaf Australia] when they still had a forum, is still seeking participants.

Especially from Australian Deaf and deaf.

The survey is concerned with how our deafness impacts our ability to receive information on sex and sexuality, and the opportunities we receive to seek and express our sexuality. No other survery/ research project, to my knowledge, has been carried out into Deaf/deaf and  Sexuality.

I am inviting readers of this blog to participate in this important research project. Confidentiality is guaranteed, as the survey can be done anonymously.

Just a note, I have said in the past, while Deaf and deaf Gays and Lesbians are the focus of this survey, I would like Deaf and deaf people who identify as straight [heterosexual], bisexual, or transgender to consider doing the survey. Our deafness impacts how we receive information on sex and sexuality.

This is an important survey. To my knowledge, no other survery/ research has been carried out into Deaf/deaf and  Sexuality. So, I hope that you would consider doing this survey, or past it on to someone who you think will.

Further Reading:
Research Project
Survey
Deafness and Sexuality
On Being Deaf: Part Three

A Fish in What Sea?

My good mate Deano, the big deaf fella that went to the Olympics, used to live and train in Adelaide. He had this ramshackle blue Toyota Corolla that was smaller than he is now. The car was, to put it mildly, a pigsty. In the back he had an assortment of stuff usually related to his training. He had pole vaults, flippers, bags of smelly clothes and god knows what else. I used to love looking in the back of his car because there were motivational notes to himself. On the flippers he had written, “No Pain No Gain”. My favourite was the note scrawled on piece of cardboard that went something like “I want to be a great athlete not just a great Deaf athlete.” This last note was apparently in response to a question from his coach. His coach asked him: “What do you want to be – A great athlete or just a great Deaf athlete?”

I was thinking about this during a navel gazing moment last night. There was no fluff this particular night so I had plenty of time to think. Thinking of Dean took me back to a meeting I had with Pierre Gorman. Gorman is best known as being the first deaf person to obtain a PHD from Cambridge University and assisting in the development of the Paget-Gorman Sign System.

I met him as part of research that I was carrying out into young deaf people and mental health. We talked about everything under the sun and he was a hopeless gossip. He started chatting about deaf people he knew. I vividly recall him mentioning a high standing and much respected member of the Deaf community and asking me: “Do you think he is trying to be a big fish in a small sea?” Thus, implying that the person was wasting his talents solely within the Deaf community. He was suggesting that this individual was avoiding the challenge of using these talents in the wider community. Gorman could be controversial like that.

In navel gazing moments my mind flies off in tangents. From Gorman my mind journeyed to a confrontation I had with a manager of one of our deafness organisations. She and I started talking about the respective merits of actively employing deaf people into management roles within the deafness sector.  She was quite frank and disparaging of many deaf people she had worked with.

She talked of a current deaf manager as being a, “waste of time”, because -“He is only using us as a stepping stone to bigger things and has little interest in what he is doing within the organisation.” She spoke of former deaf employees who they had encouraged and nurtured only for them to leave for greener pastures. Thus, wasting everyone’s time.

She felt that if deaf people did not have the same experience and qualifications as hearing people to compete for leadership positions within the deafness sector, to appoint them to leadership roles was akin to tokenism. Affirmative Action was not part of her vocabulary. There was very little we agreed on but it was a civil and spirited debate.

While people were watching television or reading books I entertained myself with my thoughts. It is no surprise that I fell asleep soon after. However I awoke with these thoughts still fresh in my mind. What can we make of these three stories? First let’s revisit Deano’s example.

Sport at the Olympics is elite sport. Competitors are the very best at their chosen event. To succeed Dean had to forget the label of Deaf athlete and see himself as an athlete – full stop. Deaf sport can be of a high standard but it has no comparison to the Olympics. Dean was an athlete first and foremost; being deaf had nothing to do with it.

It would be the same if Deano was a computer programmer. There is no point in being a deaf computer programmer and wanting to work only within deaf sector organisations to program computers. I am sure there are some jobs for computer programmers in the deaf sector just as there are opportunities within Deaf sport. But to be the best and compete with other computer programmers, deafness has no bearing.

Pierre Gorman’s comment was mildly offensive to me at the time. The person he spoke of has achieved enormous growth and improvements in access for Deaf people. To imply that the achievements would be more prestigious if it had occurred within the hearing sector seemed to be bordering on snobbery.

Pierre Gorman was a fascinating and talented man. But to me, at the time, it felt wrong to assume or even suggest that a person that has worked so hard and achieved so much for the Deaf community was working in the sector because it made them feel more significant than what they could feel in the hearing sector. It seemed offensive to suggest that this prestige would be somewhat greater had it been earned within the hearing community. Why was doing the very best in the Deaf sector any different from doing the very best in the hearing sector? To me they were one and the same. I only wish that I had challenged Pierre Gorman about his view instead of being overawed by him as I was at the time.

Had I done so, I may have come to understand that Gorman was not entirely wrong. Perhaps there actually are deaf people that work in the deafness sector because they are comfortable. All their needs are met. Interpreters are provided. Work colleagues can communicate with them. Most of the time anyway. We have all heard of the hearing worker that has worked in a deaf organisation that is impossible to lip-read or who after 30 years still cannot sign. Unacceptable as this is, the question remains – are there deaf people working within the deaf sector simply because they do not wish to leave their comfort zone? Gorman may have been wrong about the particular person whose motives he questioned but in retrospect he may have been touching on an entirely different point altogether.

In the third story I was perplexed when having the conversation and I have no less clarity now. It seemed to me that the manager was looking for excuses as to why there were not more deaf people working in leadership positions within her organisation. On the one hand a deaf person who was a manager will leave because his interests lay elsewhere. On the other, a person they were grooming for management left them and wasted their time. It was almost as if having deaf people in positions of management was a burden for the organisation.

In Dean’s story his coach wanted him to be an athlete, not a deaf athlete. The coach’s focus was on Dean’s abilities and not the fact he is deaf. Given the coach, before meeting Dean, had probably had little experience of deafness one might have expected the coach to allow some latitude for Dean’s deafness. But to the coach Dean was an athlete whose deafness had no influence on his achievements.

In Pierre Gorman’s story, Gorman seemed to feel that many deaf people are not achieving their full potential. He seemed to have been suggesting that some deaf people use the deafness sector as a crutch rather than take on the challenge of succeeding within the wider community. Gorman’s focus was on skill, ability and challenging one’s comfort zones. Deafness did not really come into it.

As for the third story I just do not know what to make of it. Perhaps the manager felt threatened about having deaf people at her own level. Perhaps she felt that if there were too many deaf people in leadership roles in her organisation, the organisation would become too lopsided. I really do not know. Her whole attitude just left me confused and a little downhearted.

I believe that deaf sector organisations have a role to nurture and develop deaf people for management and leadership roles. Not to protect deaf people but to allow them to develop the skills that will allow them to compete for positions within and outside the deaf sector. If they stay within the deaf sector – great! If they leave and take up opportunities outside the deaf area, that’s great too!

Dean’s coach and Pierre Gorman are not really that different in their attitude. The coach wanted Dean to be an athlete and not use his deafness as an excuse for anything. Gorman, if you think a little deeper, was pointing out that people should not hide behind their deafness. Being a big fish in a small sea might feel satisfying but for Gorman this was akin to settling for mediocrity. His attitude was debatable, a little snobby but ultimately with good motive.

As for that manager, talent and ability don’t even seem to come into play. For her it seems deaf people are all the same. For her it seems deaf people are unreliable and likely to cause more problems than benefits. Whereas the coach and Gorman see only ability she sees only the deafness. Her attitude is stereotyping at its worst.

Phew!! It is amazing what you can come up with from a bit of navel gazing. Goodness, what is this? Is it fluff I see? I think I will get back to it and give my poor head a rest.

Double Dipping

I was at a Do on the weekend in Ballarat.  Ballarat is a historical town in Australia famous for gold mining and considered the birthplace of Trade Unionism in Australia. Fair play and equal opportunity are very much rooted in the history of Ballarat. What better place than Ballarat to have a discussion over a few beers about the merits of our respective Deaf and hearing impaired advocacy organisations. After all, advocacy and representation of the layman are essential components of the history of Ballarat.

Our advocacy organisations can be compared to Trade Unions. Unions advocate and promote the rights of the workers. Our advocacy organisations advocate and promote the rights of Deaf and hearing impaired people. Our Unions exist and largely survive from the membership fees of its members. This is where the similarities end. Deaf and hearing impaired advocacy organisations exist largely and only if the Government deems them relevant enough to fund. Take government funding away and Deaf and hearing impaired advocacy organisations would fall in an undignified heap. Unions are largely independent of the Government and self sufficient, even if they do tend to favour Labor politics. (Democrat equivalent for all our US readers.)

Unions are generally rich organisations. In recent years they have struggled to retain their significance. Membership has dropped and Labor governments now try to put some distance between themselves and the Unions. Unions are not reliant on Government funding – they exist for and because of their members. This is a good thing because it means they can attack the Government when needed, without fear or favour. Can our Deaf and hearing impaired advocacy agencies claim the same thing?

If our Deaf and hearing impaired advocacy agencies are funded mainly from the Government how independent of the Government are they? I know for a fact that government ministers contact our advocacy agencies for advice. Whether they take the advice is another thing. It tends to suggest that the Government sees the advocacy agencies as extensions of their own departments. This happens not just with Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum, I am also aware that it happens with the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations.

In America there is great concern about advocacy organisations that receive funds from the Government. For example the Association of Retired People receives $73 Million from the US Government. $39 Billion is provided to all advocacy groups. (source:http://www.heritage.org/research/governmentreform/bg1040.cfm) The concern in America is that because the Government provides so much money to these groups that they, in fact, use these organisations to further the Governments purpose. What this means is that to keep their funding the agencies tend to fear rocking the boat too much. They largely promote and support the Governments view for fear of losing their funding. This should not be the case, advocacy agencies should feel free to challenge and even take Governments to court.

Very few advocacy organisations will come out openly and say that they are manipulated or controlled by the Government. But one wonders how much they hold back or fear really openly challenging the Government when their very existence relies on the funds that the Government provides. In Australia nearly everything disability is government funded even disability sections of the Australian Human Rights Commission.  It is a little bit scary because it gives the Government enormous influence and control.

At the Do in Ballarat my friend complained that she had been told that Deaf Australia would not provide support to her unless she was a paying member. (Who she was told by, I do not know.) My friend felt that this was not fair. She felt that because she paid tax and Deaf Australia were funded by the Government, they are expected to support Deaf people and no one should have to pay membership. We then started discussing how independent Deaf Australia really was if they existed almost solely on Government funding. We discussed whether the Government should withdraw their funding if Deaf Australia were only going to support the 2 or three hundred people that had paid membership. There was no conclusion to the discussion, except to leave a lot of questions unanswered.

In 2006 the Australian Government commissioned a review of disability advocacy in Australia. The review suggested many things but two stand out. The first being the recommendation for a one stop shop to advocate for all disabilities. The second was the suggestion of a competitive tendering process. What this means is that the Government of the day believed that disability advocacy should largely come under one roof  AND the organisation that can provide it should be the one that best meets the Government tendering process. The suggestions caused much debate.

Martin (Muzzling Disability) was particularly scathing of the recommendations. Martin does not think it was feasible that one organisation could specialise in all disabilities. He compares this to having Doctors who are General Practice types being used to carry out all types of Surgery – sounds like a good idea but ultimately is a crazy one. How does this relate to merging Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum? Deaf Australia  must be jumping with glee.

More pointedly Martin argues that Organisations that compete for Government Funding have their independence and quality compromised. Rather than providing Advocacy as it is needed they provide advocacy as the Government prescribes it through their tender process. In a sense they can not challenge the Government in a way or do anything that is not permissible within the tender document.

Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum both have funding agreements with the Government. Their funding agreement would outline what is permissible under the terms of their funding. I have not seen the funding agreements of the two organisations so I cannot comment on what they are required to do. BUT, at least potentially, the funding agreement will restrict what the two organisations can and cannot do. If this is so, it is not a good thing.

This article is very scholarly compared to the previous articles about THAT AD. I could be wrong but I did not hear or see even a little bit of protest from our Deaf and hearing impaired advocacy agents in relation to those Ads. I know that the South Australian Association of the Deaf did make a complaint to the Cora Barclay Centre and were largely ignored. Did our deaf and hearing impaired advocacy agencies remain quiet for fear of upsetting their funder? Are the oral groups so influential in Government that Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum feared speaking out lest they get backlash? Scare mongering? am I? – Yes I am, but these scenarios have the potential to rear their ugly heads when the Government is so heavily involved in funding our Advocacy organisations.

What’s the answer? Beyond giving the Government the funding back and trying to exist independently I do not know. What I do know is that we have a flawed system at the moment with more questions left unanswered than answered.